If you ever look at music throughout time, along with a history book -- they kind of complement each other. Some of the greatest songs in rock, R&B and rap have chronicled history both social, major news events, sports, entertainment and political.
In my opinion, many times, the song is about what the artist thinks about some of these events, or it captures the mood of the country.
10. Alan Jackson, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning"
September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, is a day that will not soon be forgotten by anyone. It was the worst attack on U.S. soil since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Country singer Alan Jackson, on that terrible day, went out for a morning walk and, when he returned, heard the news about what happened in New York in his kitchen.
However, Jackson wanted to write a song that wasn't vengeful but rather thoughtful and reflective, and the song's reflections are pretty powerful:
Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened/close your eyes and not go to sleep? Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages, or speak to some stranger on the street? Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow/ or go out and buy you a gun? Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin', and turn on I Love Lucy reruns?
Jackson performed the song on the CMA Awards and, the following morning, radio programmers pulled his performance and started playing it on the air.
9. U2, "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
The whole song talks about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and all that he did, with both peace and love. Bono sings:
Early morning, April 4 Shot rings out in the Memphis sky Free at last, they took your life They could not take your pride.
8. Dion, "Abraham, Martin, and John"
This song contains many references to four very important figures in civil rights history: Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a baptist minister who decided to show the world that peace is a better solution; and both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. The song talks about how they are still needed in spite of the fact that they were all assassinated.
7. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, "The Way It Is"/Tupac Shakur, "Changes"
"The Way It Is" talks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, as Hornsby communicates in the song, a mere law is not enough:
Well they passed a law in '64 to give those who ain't got nothing more But it only goes so far Because the law won't change another's mind When all he sees at the hiring time Is the line on the color bar.
Meanwhile, Tupac Shakur's "Changes" samples "The Way It Is." "Changes," though, addresses the possibility of having a black president and how, according to Tupac, there must be some "changes" made first. The song was released in 1998 after his death, and in 2008, the U.S. elected African-American Sen. Barack Obama to the Oval Office.
6. Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start the Fire"
Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" covers all of U.S. history from 1949-89. The Piano Man briefly talks about such major happenings in both politics and pop culture, including Beatlemania, the various elections of U.S. presidents, sports events and even social issues ("AIDS, crack, homeless vets...").
5. Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers"
"Volunteers" has often been interpreted to be about the then-raging war in Vietnam. However, according to guitarist Paul Kanter and vocalist Marty Balin, it wasn't necessarily the case. In Relix magazine, Balin recalled that the song "became political but it didn't start out that way. I had woken up to the sound of garbage cans crashing outside the mansion and looked out, and there was this Volunteers of America truck, so I wrote that down and gave it to Paul and he wrote the song. Bang. People put all kinds of meaning into it."
4. Amy Grant, "Wait For the Healing"
If you listen to the live version of this classic on the 20th anniversary re-release of her landmark album, 1988's Lead Me On, Grant tells the audience that the song is about growing up in America in the '60s. Knowing this fact, if you look at the lyrics you can understand what she is metaphorically talking about in these lyrics:
One had vision, one came bringing its doom One saw napalm, one heard the man in the moon We were children of promise, we were heirs to their dreams
She is referring to the idealism of the early '60's, and then all the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Dr. King (see "Abraham, Martin and John") as well as man walking on the moon, Vietnam, etc.
3. Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock"
Though Joni didn't appear at Woodstock per se due to her manager thinking it was more important for her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show , she penned this song after realizing that she missed out on playing this historical festival. Mitchell sings:
By the time when we got to Woodstock We were half a million strong And everywhere you looked, there was a song and a celebration Everybody was singin' and dancin' and sharin' and havin' fun
2. Sublime, "April, 29, 1992 (Miami)"
April 29, 1992 was a historic day for one big reason: The Los Angeles riots. Before that, there were accusations of police brutality against the LAPD in regards to how they handled suspects -- more specifically people in low-income areas such as South Central Los Angeles. One suspect in particular was at the center of the controversy: Rodney King, a parolee who had previously been released from prison.
On March, 2, 1991, King (who died last month) led LAPD cops on a high-speed pursuit because he was under the influence of alcohol. Police pulled him over and then repeatedly tazed and beat him to a bloody pulp, while the cops were being taped by a bystander named George Holliday. Among his injuries, King suffered broken facial bones and a broken ankle. All four cops were then tried but found not guilty of use of excessive force.
When the verdict was announced more than a year later, all hell broke loose in South Central. People started looting and burned buildings down, causing millions of dollars in damages. Sublime's song is told from an alleged participant's point of view.
1. Artists United Against Apartheid, "Sun City"
Right up until 1984, apartheid in South Africa was pretty rampant. Little Steven Van Zandt, who had then parted ways with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, went to South Africa to do some research for his upcoming album and he did not like what he saw: A resort, Sun City, that had welcomed such performers as Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Rod Stewart, The O'Jays, Tina Turner and a handful of others.
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Therefore, Van Zandt recruited some famous friends from the worlds of hip-hop, R&B, and rock -- including Run-DMC, the Temptations' Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, Pat Benatar, Bonnie Raitt, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Hall and Oates and Joey Ramone -- to form Artists United Against Apartheid and record the single "Sun City." The song itself was highly critical of President Ronald Reagan's "constructive engagement" policy towards South Africa. The policy offered other incentives for the country to move away from apartheid besides the UN-sponsored sanctions.
Please feel free to share any other songs I may have missed.